Touring the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market with Designer Michelle Wempe

Do you live near a landmark attraction that you’ve never explored?  The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco has been one of those places for me. Frankly, I’ve never felt the need to drive into the city to shop for produce since I have a wealth of farm-fresh options right here in the East Bay. I subscribe to a weekly CSA box, frequently shop at Berkeley Bowl and can drop in on other area farmers markets nearly every day of the week. But I’ve always been curious about the highly touted market outside the Ferry Building. So I was thrilled to have Oakland-based interior designer Michelle Wempe, a terrific cook and farmers market enthusiast, offer to tour me around some of her favorite vendors there.

“Cooking is just another avenue to design,” said Michelle as we talked about the intersection of her work and play.  “It’s about melding a lot of different flavors just as we combine colors and textiles and furnishings in a residential design.” She assured me that the vendors at this market were the best of the bunch and that even if it meant getting up early on a Saturday morning and driving into the city, I wouldn’t be disappointed.  She was right.  Come see what I saw.

Michelle and her partner Harris arrive early to meet friends for coffee and do their shopping before the crowds show up around 9:00.  The Market is held outside the Ferry Building on the San Francisco Embarcadero and waterfront sides of the building which is part of its appeal.  I mean look at this view.

And check out the well-fed regulars.

Inside the Ferry Building you’ll find upscale food vendors like Acme Bread and Cowgirl Creamery along with housewares purveyors like Sur La Table and The Gardener.  Outside, September’s bounty includes some of my favorite fruits – plums and pomegranates.

The last of the corn and tomatoes.

And the beginning of the winter squashes. Such a cheery sight as the days grow shorter.

It also brings a new crop of heirloom apples.  Here are some of the varieties sold by Stan DeVoto of DeVoto Farms. Part of the fun of touring with Michelle was having her introduce me to the farmers.

After all,  I grew up on a potato farm in southeastern Idaho and know how much farmers like my dad and brother care about their crops and love to talk about them.  I just wish my dad was still alive to see all the varieties of potatoes available today.

We were hosting friends for dinner and though I had my main course in place I asked Michelle for some ideas for easy produce-inspired appetizers. “I usually opt for something simple like seasonal fruit and cheese or some sautéed peppers,” she said, leading me over to Happy Quail Farms where she introduced me to owner David Winsberg in his pepper-printed shirt.

He showed me some gorgeous Piment d’Anglet—long red peppers also known as Basque fryers that are cousins to the Jimmy Nardellos sitting at home on my countertop.  They would make an excellent side dish for a main course sometime, but for an appetizer both Winsberg and Michelle agreed that the Padron peppers sauteed until they were subtly charred and then finished off with a good salt would be a good bet. “They’re mostly sweet though every tenth pepper can be as hot as a cayenne, which is part of the fun,” said Winsberg.  Ok, so Russian roulette pepper appetizers it would be.

Then Michelle helped me pick the perfect figs at Knoll Farms as a second starter.

Fun fact—Michelle and Harris actually met at the Farmers Market when he was helping Rick Knoll out on busy Saturdays.  “Harris waited on me every week which eventually led to a dinner invitation with some other market friends, and the rest, as they say is history.”

Along with all the beautiful produce and fresh flower vendors, there are a fair number of prepared food purveyors.   Bottled products like jams or pepper sauces would be great for gifts as the holiday approaches.

There are also a number of bakers selling bread and pastries.  I picked up a few pie slices from Three Babes Bakeshop to take home to M.J.before heading into the Ferry Building to grab some pain epi from Acme to serve with dinner.

Laden with my bags of treasures (Michelle says she often brings a little rolling cart if she’s doing serious shopping) I made my way to my car in the small Ferry Building Parking Lot across the street.  Alas, I didn’t realize I needed to have my ticket validated by a vendor and almost paid a hefty sum for parking.  Fortunately, the toll taker gave me the benefit of the doubt —“this time only”—when he saw all my bags of produce.

So, if you live in the Bay Area or are visiting here on a weekend and want to make the most of the celebrated Ferry Plaza Farmers Market remember to get your parking ticket validated and follow designer Michelle Wempe’s top three tips for navigating the market:

1. Come early. The market officially opens at 8:00 but you can often start shopping at 7:30.  That’s also the best time to spot the professional chefs doing their shopping.

2. Be Flexible. This isn’t a supermarket that will have everything available in all seasons. Some people love the summer market best, but there are always interesting and tasty options here. Let the market inspire you.

3. Get to know the farmers.  They know their produce better than anyone and can educate you about how best to use what you see at the market.

Thanks for a terrific tour, Michelle. I loved seeing the bounty laid out on my kitchen counter.

And that night the figs and roasted peppers were outstanding.

It really was worth the drive. Can’t wait to go back!


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Friday Things: The New Sink Edition

No wallpaper decision made yet, but the new sink is in!  Isn’t she a beauty?  Perhaps you recall this moment of impulse renovation when we ripped out the old odd powder room vanity with no plan for what would take it’s place?

Four months later we have new things in the room including floor tile (Ann Sacks), a beefy wall mounted sink (Sonia) with a sleek new faucet (Gessi) and a glamorous P-trap (Kohler.)  Feeling fancy.

Other final projects completed over the last few weeks — foam roof recoated, new doors installed and hung, sheetrock and mud work in various areas finished and outdoor trellises removed.  A little stucco repair and we’ll be ready for the return of the painters.  And then we’ll rest from our labors for awhile.

Speaking of rest, we’re off to the Monterey Peninsula for the weekend.  Should be a lovely break from work and work projects.  Hope you’re finding some R&R, preferably near the water, as well.

Happy Weekend All!

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Friday Things: The Wallpaper Edition

I grew up in a farmhouse where most of the rooms were covered in wallpaper.  Flocked wallpaper in the entryway became the backdrop for my wedding photos.  Big orange and white panels of wallpaper led the way to my bedroom. Fish swam on bathroom walls and English gardens bloomed in the kitchen.  In my grown-up homes I’ve tended to paint walls rather than paper them.  Though I did use a charming toile filled with spy planes in a powder room in the Edwardian home our kids grew up in and I’m now looking for some interesting textures to put on the walls in our new modernist home.  As you can see from the samples above (pinned on top of wall colors I first considered) it will be a hard decision!  If you’d like to know more about trends in wallpaper check out my BANG story about wallpaper.

Some other things worth looking into this week:

Iconic portraits with John Malcovich.

What’s your sofa personality?

One student’s assault becomes an art statement and what it’s like to carry around that mattress.

Emma Watson‘s speech about feminism before the U.N.  Lovely (and not just because of her British accent.)

Actress Viola Davis on her career and hitting the big time.

Would you be polite to your favorite female celebrity if you met her?

Happy Weekend All!


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Lunch Cake

We were lucky enough to have old friends over for Saturday lunch.  The wife is undergoing treatment for a brain tumor and after nine months of procedures is just now taking short trips out and about.  Longtime friends, we used to camp and hike together when our children were little. Now I worried she wouldn’t be able to make the seven steps down from the driveway to our dining table.

Ever the trooper, she did just fine.  We celebrated the grown-up developments in our childrens’ lives and swore at the too-young-to-be-facing-this direction her life has taken.

I chose to keep the food simple and ready to eat the minute they arrived in order to make the most of her limited energy reserves.  Using the eggplant and tomatoes from our weekly CSA box, I made a quiche (remember those?) that could be served at room temperature and some vinaigrette to dress a green salad.  Good bread from a local bakery rounded out the meal.

Talking over the menu with M.J. beforehand I suggested a chocolate cake but he thought that seemed like a “supper” cake not a lunch cake.  I think chocolate cake is pretty much appropriate for any meal—including breakfast—but I continued to look through recipes and settled on a favorite gingerbread from Christmas Gifts from the Kitchen by Northern California-based cookbook author Georgeanne Brennan.

The cake features three types of ginger—powdered, fresh and crystalized–and is made with apple juice, sunflower oil and no eggs so it could be used for a vegan meal as well. It has a wonderful flavor with a modern zing from the fresh and crystalized ginger.  For Saturday I decided to make some homemade applesauce to accompany the cake.  So good together.

Here’s the gingerbread recipe in case you too want to celebrate life in all its complexity with a lunch cake.

Triple-Ginger Gingerbread

Makes 2 Gingerbreads

1 cup apple juice or water, heated

1/2 cup dark molasses

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons chopped crystallized giner

1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sunflower oil

Confectioners’ (icing) sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 8 by 2 inch round cake pans.  (I only have 9 inch and they turn out just fine—cook for the same amount of time.) In a bowl, whisk together the apple juice, molasses, vinegar, crystallized ginger, and fresh ginger.  In a large bowl, sift together the flour, brown sugar, ground ginger, baking soda, and salt.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture.  Pour in the oil and the molasses mixture and combine with a rubber spatula just until blended.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Let cool completely in the pans on wire racks.  Turn out the gingerbreads onto the racks and sift confectioners’ sugar over the top.

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Friday Things: The Near Miss Edition

Last Friday I put together my Friday Things post and stepped away from my desk to meet a friend for lunch.  Twenty minutes later I was hit by a car as I was crossing the street to meet her.

Yes, I was in the crosswalk.  And no, I hadn’t looked both ways before crossing.

I was a few minutes late, having stopped to talk with my handyman who had just shown up to install some trim in the downstairs bathroom.  Rushing across town, I hurriedly pulled into a spot across the street from the restaurant and waved to my friend who was waiting across the way.

The next thing I remember was seeing the hood of a white car.  I recognized that I’d been hit by said car but had no idea where it had come from.  A second later I had flipped 180 degrees and was face down on the ground searching for my glasses which, amazingly, were still on my face.  There were screams and a rush of people heading my way.  I made it to my feet noticing that my left foot was hurting.  The rest of me seemed ok.

Kind merchants found me a chair and offered me a dixie cup of water and treats from a plastic jack o’lantern.  Paramedics assessed me, a policeman questioned me.  The driver stroked my arm as he apologized for hitting me, offering up that he’d swerved as soon as he saw me.

The cop ran his name and discovered that the driver had a suspended license and multiple DUIs. He also suffered from cataracts. At the time he seemed dazed or drunk or high but thankfully he somehow snapped out of it soon enough to swerve when he finally saw me and only caught me with the front right side of his car, not straight on.  The cop thought I would have died if he hadn’t swerved.  I certainly would have been injured more severely.

As it is, I have some general aches and pains and a scraped and swollen left foot.  No broken bones even though it’s likely that the car actually ran over my foot.  It’s miraculous that I limped away so relatively unscathed.

After a week of replaying what happened and taking stock of what’s to come—near misses will make you do that—I  just wanted to say that I’m glad I’m still here.  Thanks for letting me share that.

Some things that caught my attention this week as I was icing, elevating and taking note of some exceptional sunsets.

Clever ceramic figures exploring cultural and language differences.

Good advice for creating something–“I squeeze a ball of yarn (tube of paint/head of lettuce/keys of a keyboard?) and see what it wants to be when it grows up.”

Learning to self-soothe.

Why aren’t there more women guiding toy companies?

A plus size article about plus sizes.

The dishy new fashion-focused memoir from Bergdorf Goodman’s Betty Halbreich. Here’s a little glimpse into her world–

Happy Weekend All–Stay Safe!

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Harvest Decor

Having grown up on a farm, I’m nostalgic for the harvest season that starts in late September.  Perhaps that’s why I loved this image of grapes hanging from the ceiling  of an Umbrian farmhouse.  According to the story in the September issue of The World of Interiors these clusters of moscatello, trebbiano and malvasia grapes hang above an open fire for four months taking on the flavors of the smoke and whatever else is cooked on the fire.  Then they’re pressed to make vin santo. The owner, Isabella dalla Ragione, says “it’s the most beautiful ceiling you could ever see.” I dare say she’s right.

Photo by Tim Beddow

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Friday Things: That Old September Feeling Edition

Over the summer I’ve been re-reading Wallace Stegner’s “Angle of Repose” and thinking how much more I bring to this reading now than I did when I read it in my 20s.  Today I came across this quote near the end of the novel—

“For several weeks now I have had the sense of something about to come to an end—that old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air. . .another fall, another turned page.”

Here in the Oakland hills September means glorious sunsets and warm—sometimes too warm—days.  The deer grow bold and forage for food under our noses.  Every night as the golden hour begins they cross the road from the open space and sniff around my front yard hoping to score some fallen apples.  Yesterday I played peek-a-boo with an antlered buck as I made my way to and from the mailbox then sat on the front deck reading the latest issue of the New Yorker as he and his family milled about under the oaks.  They made good company for turning pages.

Here are some other lovely things I observed this week—

Beautiful DIY blue wrapping paper

A cool but vertigo-inducing off-the-cliff dwelling in Australia.

Helpful humor for household dilemmas.

How techies limit tech time for their kids.

Two very different work spaces for two talented fashion designers—Vera Wang’s monochromatic zen office and Diane Von Furstenburg’s colorful library office .

And speaking of fashion, I’ve mentioned before that my daughter Claire designs sets for the fashion industry.  It’s always fun during NYFW to see what she’s been up to.  Check out the Barbie-pink suburban house surrounded by pink gravel and pink shag carpet she worked on for the Marc Jacobs Spring 2015 fashion show.  Wow!

 AP Photo/John Minchillo

 Happy Weekend All!

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Friday Things: The Standing Desk Edition

Ever since I read writer Susan Orlean’s New Yorker piece about working at a treadmill desk, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of walking or at least standing while I work.

When we bought this house we thought it came with a built-in office desk. However, when we moved in we found that the (not built-in after all) desk was gone.  Since I’d already tossed my old (battered, ready-to-be-retired) desk, I was slightly disappointed—one more thing to buy!—but quickly realized that I could now pursue a walking/standing desk.

After doing some online research I decided to start with a “sit-stand” desk to see how much I’d really stand while working before investing in a treadmill. I then test-drove a few desks at Ergot Depot near the San Francisco Design Center. I ended up purchasing the Humanscale “Float” desk for three reasons:

  • I already have a Humanscale desk chair that I love.
  • I didn’t want to be dependent on the electrical component of other desks (you raise and lower the Float manually.)
  • I liked the slimmer, sleeker profile of the desk.  (Form + Function!)

It took longer than expected for the desk to arrive—the company estimates three weeks, it was closer to six—but now that it’s here I’m really enjoying it. Especially if I’m doing research online, I find I don’t mind standing and I feel much better for not sitting all the time while I work.

Do you work at a standing or walking desk?  I’d be interested in hearing about your experience.


Here are some other new things that made my life better this week.

Now that we’re settled into our new home, I’d like to have a few folks over for dinner  and incorporate some of these dinner party tips.

Joan Rivers‘s funeral request had me laughing even after she was gone.

When it comes to creative projects, are you a “leaver-outer” or a “putter-inner?”

This cross-country photo project looks like it’s worth kickstarting.

Experience the power of a bookbook.

Classes at my pool/gym were so packed this week, you’d think it was January–which made me think about this post on working out.

It’s always a delight to see the young SYTYCD competitors “float” through the summer dance competition. Now that the season’s over, it’s hard to pick a favorite routine but I couldn’t resist the sheer joy conveyed in Zack and Valerie’s stair stepping tap number.

 Happy Weekend All!

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California Color Dreamin’

As summer draws to a close, the landscape here in rain-starved California is dominated by straw-colored hills dotted with silvery-green foliage.  It took me years to appreciate this dusty color palette having grown up in a place that was either bright with summer rain or starkly white under a layer of snow.  But now these mellow “Golden State” colors feel like home.  Perhaps that’s why I was so taken with San Francisco designer Benjamin Dhong’s design for a South Bay couple in the September “Color” issue of House Beautiful.

As he explains in his interview with Mimi Read, Dhong favors a mix of rustic and glamorous elements, like this green velvet ottomon paired with a distressed fireplace mantel.

He also knows his way around neutrals, as seen in the elegant white-on-white bedroom and East-West inspired living room with its sunny accessories.

After a few years awash in watery blues, it’s nice to see the sun shine in.

All photos by Lisa Romerein for House Beautiful.

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Yesterday I woke up in the early a.m. dark because my bed was shaking.  Actually, not just my bed, I realized, but the whole room.  Eyes wide open now, I recognized that it wasn’t just my room but my entire house that was shuddering in the night. “Earthquake!” I elbowed M.J. awake. “Earthquake!”

He stumbled around in an unfamiliar space (we’re sleeping downstairs while the tile work is happening upstairs), shut the door to the adjacent office and fell back into bed murmuring “ just the wind,” before promptly dozing off.  Hmm, I thought, that was some mighty wind.

I checked my phone for reports of an earthquake. I saw there’d been a 6.0 quake about 30 miles away but couldn’t believe that was the quake that had rattled me awake.  I mean, it had gone on longer than average, but 6.0 is a BIG earthquake and this didn’t seem that big.  I’d lived through the Loma Prieta earthquake, after all, and thought I knew what BIG felt like. This felt moderate, thankfully. (Not to those closer to the epicenter, I know–prayers winging their way.) But still, it was big enough to keep me restless in the dark wondering where our earthquake supply stuff landed after the move.

I’d seen the empty water canisters on top of some piles in the garage.  I knew the unplugged emergency battery/radio/flashlight thingy was in the tansu chest next to M.J.’S side of the bed. But the crow bar to get out of a collapsed house? The basic camping supplies to provide shelter?  No idea.

I’ve lived in California for 34 years now.  Long enough to know what supplies are recommended to survive in the case of a major earthquake.  Water, mostly.  Some medical supplies, a bit of food,  basic shelter items and pieces of clothing like a jacket and shoes in case the quake happens in the middle of the night and you need to walk somewhere in more than your nightgown and bare feet. Oh, and a 72-hour survival kit that you can take with you if necessary.

None of those things were in place yesterday.

So today I plugged in the battery/radio/flashlight thingy.  Filled the empty water canisters.  Located the camping supplies and ordered a new two person 72-hour survival kit.  (Inevitably, the food starts to turn or critters get into them or they get misplaced–it was time for a new one.)

A friend at the gym today said she keeps a crowbar outside her house so she could get in if she was outside and it collapsed in an earthquake. Guess we need one of those as well.  Time to reassemble a bin of old, warm clothes and shoes just in case.  Here’s hoping I’ll never need to use a single one of these things. May they all go to waste.

What emergencies do you prepare for in your part of the country/world? Do you keep emergency supplies around your house?  Inside or out? Any suggestions as I work on this latest round of emergency preparedness?

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Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.

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